HISTORICAL BASKETBALL WRITER

Douglas Stark

SELF PUBLISHED WORKS


























The SPHAS were extremely popular within the Philadelphia Jewish community, and one of the main reasons was the team’s promoter, Dave Zinkoff. Before becoming the announcer for the Philadelphia Warriors and Philadelphia 76ers, Zinkoff began as the public address announcer for the SPHAS. In addition to organizing halftime entertainment, he published the SPHAS Sparks. As Zinkoff remarked, “Besides the dances, we used to give out a program during the game that I was more or less responsible for, that not only gave the fans vital statistics on the players but also included engagement, marriage and birth announcements of fans who were regularly in attendance. It was our own little social register.”[1]

Four pages in length, the SPHAS Sparks provided fans with information about upcoming opponents, biographical information on the players, and advertisements for Jewish-owned businesses. It was the last page titled “All for Fun and Fun for All!” that was the most popular—information on birth, death and marriage announcements, and the comings and goings of the Philadelphia Jewish community. This gossip column created a sense of identity within the Jewish community and greatly contributed to second generation Jews seeking to Americanize. In short, the SPHAS Sparks was part social newsletter and part basketball program.

One of the more popular features of the program was the lucky number drawn every game. “In addition, each program had a lucky number in it. If your number was drawn, you won a suit,” Zinkoff recalled. “The big deal back then was to come to a Sphas game, meet a nice girl at the dance, win the suit, and get married.”[2]

In the course of researching the SPHAS, this author discovered predecessors to the SPHAS Sparks: The Ringer and In the Bucket. These early versions provide a glimpse into the team and what later evolved into the SPHAS Sparks. This volume provides an opportunity to learn about the SPHAS during their best years through the evolution of The Ringer, In the Bucket, and the SPHAS Sparks.


 

Founded in 1918 as a club team, the SPHAS (South Philadelphia Hebrew Association) rose to national stardom in the 1930s, dominating the American Basketball League by winning seven championships in thirteen years. During their forty-one years in existence, the team captured twelve league championships. In the process, they became not only professional basketball’s best team, but also the greatest Jewish team of all time. By the 1950s, the SPHAS became a touring team with the famed Harlem Globetrotters, helping the fledgling NBA survive.

The SPHAS traveled across the East, South and Midwest, and the players overcame stereotypes of weakness and inferiority while boosting the game’s popularity. Individuals such as Eddie Gottlieb, Dave Zinkoff, Abe Radel, Hughie Black, Chickie Passon, Moe Goldman, Shikey Gotthoffer, Gil Fitch, Harry Litwack, Red Sherr, Red Rosan, Red Klotz, Petey Rosenberg, Inky Lautman, and Cy Kaselman all made the SPHAS and professional basketball. In those days, basketball was a Jewish sport, and the SPHAS represented the Philadelphia Jewish community. The Broadwood Hotel served as the site where the team enjoyed its greatest success. Saturday night was affectionately known as SPHAS night.


Research Projects

Three thousand Jewish singles would come, pay their ticket, enter the ballroom, pick up a copy of the SPHAS Sparks, and watch their home team. Afterwards, the Gil Fitch Orchestra performed and was accompanied on vocals by a young Kitty Kallen as the crowd danced for several hours.